Four years ago, local interior designers Iantha Carley and Dennese Guadeloupe Rojas chatted about the problems within their industry—namely the need for greater support for Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the business. As a Black designer, Carley says she dealt with racism early in her career—being ignored at showrooms or asked for her credentials, and generally being made to feel as though such spaces were off-limits to designers who looked like her.
In 2020, she and Rojas decided to do something about it. They launched the DC Design Collective, which is also co-led by Quintece Hill-Mattauszek, Shawna Underwood, and Charles Almonte. Their mission is to provide a safe place for local designers of color to gather. Particularly in an industry where many professionals work alone, Carley says the existence of such a group is needed to foster a sense of community.
“Dennese and I felt really strongly about creating a group so that designers of color…could come and commiserate together,” she says, adding that it will also be a hub for sharing resources and advice. “Oftentimes when [designers of color] are disregarded, it’s unclear if it’s because of our color,” Carley explains. “In other words, we don’t always want to jump to the conclusion that a negative encounter may be racially motivated. With a group such as ours, it gives us the opportunity to check [in] and support one another.”
When it was initially founded, the group only included Black designers. Carley says the killing of George Floyd in May led them to realize the group should include all designers of color.
The collective will support the next generation of designers, too. Carley says the organization plans to partner with local colleges, including Montgomery College, Howard University, and Morgan State University, to provide resources to young people getting into the business. “Hopefully they won’t have to have all of the ordeals that we have had in our careers,” Carley says.
While the organization is still in its early stages, Carley says the collective is currently fielding membership inquiries, and will start accepting members by this summer. Prior to the pandemic, the group was planning field trips—one to New York City to visit the Design District and one to Philadelphia to check out vintage stores. Carley says she’s looking forward to rescheduling those once the pandemic ends.
*This post has been updated.